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Massive looting reported in California railways after Covid-induced poverty

Shredded boxes and packages are seen strewn across the tracks in Los Angeles County, California, on January 14, 2022, as a result of a month of looting. (Photo by AP)

Reports show freight cars are being broken into every day on railways in Los Angeles County, California, by thieves who take advantage of the trains' stops to loot their parcels and packages.

This comes as escalating economic hardships and poverty triggered by the coronavirus crisis have culminated in a surge in theft and robbery in the United States.

Media reports said many major US mail order and courier companies such as Amazon, Target, UPS and FedEx are being hit by the thefts on a daily basis, causing thousands of boxes and products to never reach their destinations.

The reports were accompanied by photos and videos depicting the shocking aftermath of looted trains in Los Angeles. The viral videos showed massive amounts of opened packages, cardboard and packaging materials strewn around the railway tracks.

"Keep hearing of train burglaries in LA on the scanner so went to [Lincoln Heights] to see it all. And… there’s looted packages as far as the eye can see. Amazon packages, [UPS] boxes, unused Covid tests, fishing lures, epi pens. Cargo containers left busted open on trains," John Schreiber, local CBS photojournalist, said in a tweet.

The reports said the thieves wait until the freight trains are immobilized on the tracks and then climb onto the freight containers, break their locks and open the parcels for looting.

Union Pacific (UP), one of the largest US railroad companies, has seen a 160 percent rise in the thefts in Los Angeles county since December 2020.

"In October 2021 alone, the increase was 356 percent compared to October 2020," UP said in a letter to the local authorities, adding that the explosion in looting has been accompanied by an upsurge in "assaults and armed robberies of UP employees performing their duties moving trains.”

According to figures reported by UP, the looting has spiked recently with the peak of activity linked to Christmas shopping as more than 90 containers were vandalized every day on average in Los Angeles County in the last quarter of 2021.

The US rail operator said it may avoid operating in Los Angeles following the spike in thefts, which it blames on lax prosecution of crimes.

Police and security agents have arrested more than 100 people in the last three months of 2021 for "trespassing and vandalizing" Union Pacific trains, according to official reports.

"While criminals are being caught and arrested, charges are reduced to a misdemeanor or petty offense, and the person is back on the streets in less than 24 hours after paying a nominal fine," said a spokesman for the rail operator. "In fact, criminals boast to our officers that there is no consequence.”

UP wrote to the Los Angeles County attorney's office at the end of December and asked them to reconsider a leniency policy introduced at the end of 2020 for such offenses.

The operator estimates that damages from such thefts in 2021 amounted to some $5 million, adding that the amount in claims and losses "does not include respective losses to our impacted customers" or the impact on Union Pacific's operations.

The grim economic situation in the United States has posed a political nightmare for the administration of President Joe Biden, who describes runaway prices as “transitory” and blames coronavirus-related supply chain disruptions for the spike.

The high rate of inflation in the United States is devastating to everyday Americans, an expert has warned, calling for the rising prices to be curbed. Gilbert Garcia, a managing partner at Garcia Hamilton & Associates in Houston, said the US central bank needs to immediately get the rising inflation rate under control by raising interest rates.

Moreover, hospitals in the US, the worst-hit country in the world, have been struggling to cope up with the new tide of COVID-19 cases in recent weeks, as well as worker shortages and burnout.

The highly transmissible omicron variant has been fueling a surge in new virus cases across the country, and now accounts for 98% of all cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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